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Peru, Cusco, Machu Picchu

Altitude Illnesses in Peru

I am going to Peru in few months time and worrying about Altitude Sickness when in there. I live by the seaside, I had never been at altitudes as high as Cusco. 

Have you experienced Altitude Sickness when in Peru? How do I prevent it?  

15 Answers

top answer by
Alex from London

Hi Kasia,

The best thing to do is give yourself time to acclimatise.  Take the first day in Cusco slow, give it a day or two before trying any hiking (inca trail) -- you can always explore other sites in the Valle Sagrado like Maras, Moray, Ollantaytambo, etc.

I did experience alttitude sickness -- it was actually worse in Puno -- but Cusco was my last destination so I was more used to it.  Mild symptoms were constant short breath (that never stopped) and the worse was hyped heartbeat and sudden dizzyness.  

People advised me not to eat meat or heavy foods on the first two days but I started out in Arequipa, a city known for its culinary traditions, so I never followed that rule and didn't get any nausea.  One thing I did do that helped ALOT was drink loads of muna (mint) tea.  I also carried muna leaves (or picked them out wild from trails) when going hiking, smelling the crushed leaves made me feel much better and 'cured' my dizzyness.

Different people react to altitude in different ways, it doesn't have much to do with how 'fit' you are. So my advice is to take it slow and let your breathing get accustomed.  Your body should give you the signals (easy breath, normal heartbeat) when you are ready to speed it up.

Have a great time, you will love Peru!

6 thanks

answered by

Negative response to high altitude is an individual physiological one-you won't know till there if it will affect you. Keep hydrated. Don't do too much in the first few days. Drink coca, mint and ginger tea-some of the hotels have large urns of coca tea in the foyer. Eat lightly. Going to a lower altitude can relieve symptoms-the Sacred Valley and Maccu Picchu are lower altitude than Cusco-spend a day there or even stay in Ollantaytambo or Aguas Calientes if necessary.

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Ollantaytambo (city)
  2. Aguas Calientes (attraction)
2 thanks

answered by
Joe from Houston

We live in Houston - barely above sea level.

We spent 2 weeks in Peru in October with our main focus being the Salkantay Trek via Mountain Lodges of Peru. We are all in our early 60s but in good health and fitness.

We researched this issue thoroughly. Our plan was acclimation and "drugs".

We landed in Peru and overnighted there. We then flew to Titilaka Lodge (memorable) for 2 nights at Lake Titicaca (12,500'). We then spent 3 nights in Cusco and the Sacred Valley (11,000'+). So plenty of acclimation.

We decided to use Diamox but got vastly different recommendations/ prescriptions from noted travel med doctors in Houston. The dosage and duration prescribed for each was very different (in fact one doctor prescribed very high daily dose ("slow release") for 30 days!). So research what med you want/need.

On the trek (which was at 12,000' - 15,000') for the first few days 2 of our group had "issues". One had very mild headaches in the mornings which went away quickly with an Advil; one of our group had extreme difficulty sleeping. 2 hours one night; 1 hour the next; and 2 hours the next night. Exhausted by lack of sleep and the trek (exhausting due to less oxygen - slower steps and lots of stops), contacted a doctor in Lima who prescribed additional Diamox (as Diamox prescribed by Houston doctor was already used up). Everything went well after that.

2 thankscomments (2)

answered first by
Scott from Fort Collins

Hello Kasia!  A few things I would do to be prepared.  Make sure you have Diamox, which can help with altitude sickness.  It is also very important to try to acclimate if you can.  If you have areas around you where you can get up higher in altitude to help your body acclimate to higher altitudes, that should help.  Taking some hikes up to even a few thousand feet can help the body acclimate to less oxygen.  If you have a day, or two, before you go to Cusco, try a lower altitude.  You will probably fly into Lima, which is about 5,000 feet above sea level. Cusco is about twice that high.  I live in Colorado at about 5,000 feet.  I always suggest to people to spend a day around Denver, if they are coming from sea level, before heading up into the mountains. Regardless of whether those options are available, or not, make sure you are getting plenty of rest, and keep yourself hydrated.  Have a great time and safe travels!

2 thanks

answered by
Alexander from Stockholm

Chew coca leaves and mix it with these sweet tasting ash (?) that activates the chemicals. Helped my cousin alot when we were in Cusco.

1 thankscomments (1)

answered by
Gaetano from Castellammare di Stabia

I spent two week in Peru and I suffered only for an hour of altitude sickness. You could use Mate to better stay at high altitude cities.

1 thanks

answered by
Jae from Singapore

I made the foolish decision to do some strenous hiking at altitude on the day after getting into town. I suffered severe insomnia for about two sold weeks thereafter! Take everyone's advice here and acclimatize as much as you can. Take it easy and enjoy your trip.

1 thanks

answered by
Kim from New York City

I was in Peru this past June to hike the Salkantay Trail and to see Machu Picchu. We arrived in Cusco three days before starting our hike. You should be okay if you just remember to walk slowly and really take it easy. Also, be sure not to eat too much until your body has acclimatized and drink a LOT of water to stay as hydrated as possible. Stay away from alcohol and caffeine if possible, as the effects of those things are much greater at high altitudes. I also took Diamox/Acetazolamide. If you're generally healthy, I think you won't have too much of an issue. I do think the more fit you are, the easier of a time you'll have there.

1 thanks

answered by
Jesse from New York City

I felt fine in Cusco and hadn't ever experienced an altitude that high, but a few of the people I was with did feel sick, nothing debilitating, just very uncomfortable.  The locals recommended mint tea, coca tea, coca candy, ginger/ginger candy!

1 thanks

answered by
Marina from Riga, Latvia

Hi Kasia,

You can't really prevent it, but acclimatizing will help to minimize the risk of very unpleasant symptoms such as headache, feeling head pressure, fatigue, etc. Avoid doing mountain tours/hiking that in one day cover more than 700-1,000m change in altitude. Be psychologically ready to experience not feeling well, panic makes it worse. Drink a lot of water, have some sugar with you - some people experience nausea and fainting as well, sugar candy will help with that. Locals may offer you Coca leafs to chew - these help for some people, and other people don't feel any effect. It did help me - in the form of chewing and hot tea - after reaching almost 5,000m on Santa Cruz trek in Huaraz, Peru. The worst you can do for yourself in this situation is sudden and significant altitude change, being dehydrated and not resting enough. 

There are also pills that could be purchased, I took them, but they didn't seem to be doing much.

Going to high altitudes before the trip will help you understand how you feel at these altitudes, but despite a lot of pseudo advice to go to high altitudes as "practice" following the "vaccine" logic - it doesn't work as a "vaccine". Every time you go to high altitude, your body will be experiencing the stress no matter how many times you've been to high altitudes.

Hope this helps!

1 thanks

answered by
Joanna from Oakland

I was in Cusco before the Machu Picchu hike. People there chew mint leaves, which helps with the altitude adjustment. My best advice would be to slowly adjust to the altitude. Don't do strenuous activities immediately, and take your time adjusting to the difference. Take your time. 

Enjoy your trip!

1 thanks

answered by
Davi from Quebec, Quebec

I felt so bad in Cusco, I had to take some oxygen. You have to be very careful because you can become very sick. Never felt sick because of the altitude. Nobody in my group was...

1 thanks

answered by

I'd recommend at least 1-2 days acclimatisation in case you are looking forward to do any kind of trekking tour in Cusco. Also, in pharmacies you can buy the Sorojchi pills & oxygen in case you have problems (drinking mate de coca --> coca leaf tea is always recommended, and it also tastes good :)) In general you should drink a lot of water and avoid an excess of alcoholic beverages.

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Cusco (city)

answered by
Dennis from Hilvarenbeek

First travel from lima to Arequipa, and do the colca canion trail! Here you can get used to the altitude. After Arequipa  you can travel to Cusco whithout altitude sickness. When you have an experience of sickness though. Then go to bed, sleep or relax de rest of the day and night. Next day you wil be fine.

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Arequipa (attraction)

answered by
Andres from Arequipa

Kasia, I am from Peru. I work in tourism. I could recomend you  visit first Nazca (sea  level 200 masl), Arequipa  (2300 m). In this region you may do a hiking in the Colca Canyon and spend the night at 2000 m. After you are going to feel acclamatized and ready for next regions as  Cuzco (3600m) Sacred Valley 2500 m, Puno (3800m) Titicaca Lake.  

We have a tradition to recomend  herbs tea as Coca Leaves, Muña (smelling like ment), but you should drink more water, perhaps  you should bring for prevention "Coramine", Sorochepill tablets  for sikness of altitude. You could buy in Arequipa or Cuzco  in the pharmasy. 

But note worries, always you are going to find  solution for your health problem.

My best regards!!!

Andres Calcina

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Arequipa (attraction)
  2. Colca Canyon (attraction)
  3. Sacred Valley (attraction)
  4. Puno (attraction)
comments (1)

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